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by Tim Childerhouse

As staplers, the Whites must do two things and give their best attention to both.  First, they must buy their wool from English growers and sell it to foreign buyers, at that time some of the best wool in England came from the southern slopes of the Downs.  Second, as Merchants of the Staple[1], they must "enjoy bargaining for it".  John White had a ready made market: he could bargain with the Cistercian monks for the wool of their huge flocks.  May was the great month for purchases, and for the huge meetings of the Staplers, wool dealers and Broggers[2], but after the buying came the hard work – the serious business of packing the wool and shipping it to Calais.

The regulations of the Staplers and the Crown were stringent: the wool had to be packed in the country of origin and there was to be no mixing of hair and earth or rubbish with it.  The collectors (appointed by the company for the different wool growing districts, and sworn in by the Exchequer) rode round and sealed each package so that it could not be opened without breaking the seal.

The great bales left the Granges on the backs of pack–horses, to join the ancient track ways over the Hampshire Downs (conveniently near to White's packing farms) then, through Surrey and Kent, to the Medway ports by the Pilgrims Way.  At the different ports, the quantity was entered in the record books, and so off to Calais.  The wool trade between England and Flanders was so great that during some of the quarrelling between these two countries, a threat, on England's part, to put a stop to it made the Flemish rulers come to terms.


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  1. Merchants of the Staple or "Merchant Staplers", were an English trading company that controlled the export of English raw wool.  The first wool staple (a place designated by royal ordnance as a special center of commerce) was established in 1294, and the first compulsory staple, where all wool exporters were required to trade, was set up in 1314 and incorporated in 1319.  The staple was moved from place to place according to political needs, however in 1363 a group of 26 English merchants were incorporated as the Company of the Staple at Calais with a complete monopoly of wool exports, remaining almost continuously at Calais until 1558, with the company's resources contributing heavily to the defence of that city against the French.

    The company's wealth and importance diminished with the rise of the English cloth trade and the loss of Calais to the French in 1558.  The staple was then moved to Bruges, with the Staplers retaining their monopoly until 1617, when the export of raw wool was prohibited and home staples established.  They then became domestic wool brokers.  The Staplers were the only trading company to be organized on a commodity rather than a regional basis.  Wikipedia. [top]

  2. Broggers.  Wool was a very, if not, the most valuable commodity in England, and the wool trade was controlled by the State.  A Brogger was a freelance wool dealer, (also known as wool mongers or woolmen), who worked without the necessary license.  They bought large amounts of wool from rural farmers and sold it at a large profit for sale and export in the regional markets or staple towns.  Broggers usually agreed a price in April or May, and collected the wool after shearing in June.  Being middlemen they were naturally widely disliked. [top]

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